Education and Civil Rights, 50 Years After the March on Washington

I’ve often said that education is the civil rights issue of our time. I’m not the first to say it. But what does that mean?

Student

A student at Schools Without Walls in Washington, D.C., listens to Secretary Duncan give remarks as part of the “50 Years of Struggle: Youth Driving Economics, Education and Social Change.”

Civil rights means having the same opportunities that other people do –regardless of what you look like, where you come from, or whom you love.

And in today’s world, to have real opportunity, you need a world-class education.

Fifty years after the March on Washington, how far has the struggle for young people’s civil rights come?

With Jim Crow segregation ended and an African-American president speaking tomorrow at the 50th anniversary of the March, our progress is undeniable.

Yet in a time when so many young people don’t enjoy rights as basic as safety from violence, and when so many children lack the educational opportunities they deserve, there is a lot of work still ahead of us. The vision that electrified the country in 1963 – the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and the other leaders of the March – remains ahead of us. And it will take struggle to get there – a struggle our  young people must lead.

Today, I had the privilege of speaking to students and civil rights leaders at the School Without Walls in Washington, D.C., about the state of civil rights for our young people. At the event, hosted by the King Center and Discovery Education, I urged the students to join a heroic struggle that began long before they were born.

You can read the speech here and watch it here.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

We Must Provide Equal Opportunity in Sports to Students with Disabilities

Playing sports at any level—club, intramural, or interscholastic—can be a key part of the school experience and have an immense and lasting impact on a student’s life. Among its many benefits, participation in extracurricular athletic activities promotes socialization, the development of leadership skills, focus, and, of course, physical fitness. It’s no secret that sports helped to shape my life. From a very early age, playing basketball taught me valuable lessons about grit, discipline, and teamwork that are still with me to this day.

Duncan signs a basketball

Secretary Duncan signs a basketball before a stop during the 2012 back-to-school bus tour. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Students with disabilities are no different – like their peers without disabilities, these students benefit from participating in sports. But unfortunately, we know that students with disabilities are all too often denied the chance to participate and with it, the respect that comes with inclusion. This is simply wrong. While it’s the coach’s job to pick the best team, students with disabilities must be judged based on their individual abilities, and not excluded because of generalizations, assumptions, prejudices, or stereotypes.  Knowledgeable adults create the possibilities of participation among children and youth both with and without disabilities.

Today, ED’s Office for Civil Rights has released guidance that clarifies existing legal obligations of schools to provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate alongside their peers in after-school athletics and clubs. We make clear that schools may not exclude students who have an intellectual, developmental, physical, or any other disability from trying out and playing on a team, if they are otherwise qualified. This guidance builds on a resource document the Department issued in 2011 that provides important information on improving opportunities for children and youth with disabilities to access PE and athletics.

Federal civil rights laws require schools to provide equal opportunities, not give anyone an unfair head start. So schools don’t have to change the essential rules of the game, and they don’t have to do anything that would provide a student with a disability an unfair competitive advantage. But they do need to make reasonable modifications (such as using a laser instead of a starter pistol to start a race so a deaf runner can compete) to ensure that students with disabilities get the very same opportunity to play as everyone else. The guidance issued today will help schools meet this obligation and will allow increasing numbers of kids with disabilities the chance to benefit from playing sports.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

Read the “Dear Colleague” letter from the Office for Civil Rights

Join ED for Our Teacher Summer Seminars

You are invited! Join ED for our second annual Teacher Summer Seminars. This summer’s seminars–presented by teachers–will consider strategies used by teachers to ensure students’ civil rights in the classroom and to engage them through personalized learning.  The seminars take place at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., and teachers can also join online through our webinar.

#1 Civil Rights in the Classroom

Tuesday, June 26 from 6-7:30 pm (Eastern)

This seminar offers an overview of the Civil Rights Data Collection and practical advice from current teachers, a guidance counselor, and a parent about how to protect students’ civil rights in the classroom. Presenters will explore strategies to prevent bullying, engage all students, present culturally relevant lessons, and work with parents to ensure the rights of students with disabilities.

#2 What Teachers Need to Know about Personalized Learning

Tuesday, July 10 from 6-7:30 pm (Eastern)

This seminar presents perspectives on an emerging topic for educators: creating adaptive instruction for every student in the class. Presenters from the Department of Education will provide insights about the meaning, purpose, and future of personalized learning. Teachers will discuss how they use real-time data to individualize instruction and to engage students with varied abilities.

The seminars are offered both at the U.S. Department of Education (400 Maryland Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20202) and on the web.

The seminars are free but space is limited, so reserve your spot now!

Register for Seminar #1 (online or at ED), Civil Rights In the Classroom, June 26, from 6-7:30 PM (Eastern)

Register for Seminar #2 (online or at ED), What Teachers Need to Know About Personalized Learning, July 10, from 6-7:30 PM (Eastern)

Accommodations for persons with disabilities will be provided once requested at registration as long as the participant registers at least five working days prior to the seminar. 

For questions or comments, please email TeachTalk@ed.gov.

Answering Questions of Fundamental Fairness

Earlier today, Secretary Duncan released new data from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that reveal unfortunate truths about our nation’s schools. The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) is a first-of-its kind national data tool that highlights schools that are making real progress in closing opportunity gaps, as well as educational inequities around teacher experience, discipline and high school rigor.

Key findings of the new data released today include:

Disparate Discipline Rates

Disparate Discipline Rates

African-American students, particularly males, are far more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers.  Black students make up 18% of the students in the sample, but 35% of the students suspended once, and 39% of the students expelled.

Students with Disabilities

Disabilities Graphic

Nationally, students with disabilities are also more than twice as likely to be suspended as students without disabilities.

Unequal Access to Rigor

Calculus Graphic

Just over a quarter of high-minority high schools offered Calculus, while over half of schools with the lowest black and Hispanic enrollment offered the course.

Teacher Equity

Teacher Salary Graphic

Teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their colleagues in other schools.

Duncan noted that the Department is not alleging overt discrimination in some or all of these instances, but that “these are long-held patterns of behavior and until the data is tracked and evaluated, many educators may not even be aware of the discrepancies.”

Read more about the new data released today, and visit the Office for Civil Right’s new and improved CRDC website that contains data from both phases of the 2009-10 CRDC.

Cameron Brenchley is Director of Digital Engagement at the U.S. Department of Education

Talking Title IX on Twitter

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the civil rights law that ensures educational institutions that receive federal funding do not discriminate on the basis of sex. Secretary Duncan has said that Title IX is “one of the great civil rights success stories in education.” To kick off the anniversary year, Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali joined Lisa Maatz of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) for a Title IX tweetup.

Maatz and the AAUW took questions from Twitter users, and Secretary Duncan and Ali responded via Twitter. Here are just a few of the questions and answers addressed during the tweetup:

To see more of the conversation, follow Arne and the Office for Civil Rights on Twitter, and click here to see the #T9Talk discussion.

Duncan Opens National Summit on Gender-Based Violence Among Young People

“No school can be a great school unless it’s a safe school,” is a familiar phrase often cited by Secretary Duncan, and one that he repeated earlier today as he opened the first session of the National Summit on Gender-Based Violence Among Young People in Arlington, Va.

The Summit is being hosted by ED’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, and brings together organizations, educators and federal, state and local leaders to discuss ways to end gender-based violence among young people. Participants will share their expertise, give feedback on existing federal efforts, and provide recommendations on the future direction of federal policy and programming.

At ED, we are supporting efforts across the country to help prevent sexual violence in schools and on campuses.  Through our grant programs, K-12 school districts are providing year-round training for school personnel on sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and mandated reporting of incidents.  Our grant funding is also helping universities and colleges that are preventing interpersonal violence and starting innovative intervention programs.  These universities are also conducting research into best practices to curtail interpersonal violence, often with impressive results.

Earlier this week, Secretary Duncan and Vice President Biden announced new guidance to help schools, colleges and universities better understand their obligations under federal civil rights laws to prevent and respond to the problem of campus sexual assault.  Vice President Biden noted that the Obama administration is the first administration to state that sexual violence is not only a crime, but can also be a violation of an individual’s civil rights.

Check out our media advisory for more information on the two-day National Summit on Gender-Based Violence Among Young People.

Strengthening Our Response to Sexual Assault in Schools and on College Campuses

Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and University of New Hampshire Senior Sara Jane Bibeau deliver remarks at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham, NH. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

“When it comes to sexual abuse, it is quite simple: no means no,” said Vice President Biden at an event earlier today at the University of New Hampshire.  Secretary Duncan joined the Vice President on the campus of UNH to announce new guidance to help schools, colleges and universities better understand their obligations under federal civil rights laws to prevent and respond to the problem of campus sexual assault.

The Vice President—who as a Senator was the sponsor of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994—noted that schools, colleges, universities and community colleges all have a responsibility to be proactive in what amounts to the civil rights of women on campuses.

One of the reasons for this new guidance is that acts of sexual violence are vastly under-reported.  “Every school would like to believe it is immune from sexual violence, but the facts suggest otherwise,” said Secretary Duncan.  Duncan also explained that sexual violence is not only a problem at colleges and universities, but more and more of our nation’s young students are suffering from acts of sexual violence early.  Recent data shows that nearly 4,000 reported incidents of sexual battery and over 800 reported rapes and attempted rapes are occurring in our nation’s public high schools. By the time girls graduate from high school, more than one in ten will have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse in or out of school.

The Vice President noted that the Obama administration is the first administration to state that sexual violence is not only a crime, but can also be a violation of a woman’s civil rights.  You can read more about today’s event, a pdf fact sheet from ED’s Office for Civil Rights, and read ED’s dear colleague letter to higher ed, K-12 and other Title IX stakeholders.

Watch Secretary Duncan and Vice President Biden speak at UNH.